Official poster of Sky Castle
Official poster of Sky Castle

“You weren’t satisfied with the person I really was. Your voice always changes whenever I tell you that I got less than an A grade. You make me think that I obviously have to get good grades to be considered as your child”- Cha Seri, a character of ‘SKY Castle’, speaking to her father.

‘SKY Castle’ is a drama that focuses on the uber-wealthy families living in a luxurious, exclusive suburb in Seoul who are also wanting to secure a spot for their child at one of Korea’s top universities. Even the first name “SKY” is an acronym for the only options a teenager has when it comes to university: Seoul National University (SNU), Korea University, and Yonsei University. Graduating from one of them means lifetime membership in powerful alumni networks that are known to grant favours and award business contracts.

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Yes, the drama is a satirical black comedy about tiger parents competing over their kids’ education and academic stress. When preparing their children for success, nothing less than the best is acceptable. It’s very natural for parents to be proud of their children’s achievements or to encourage them, but for the Sky Castle parents, it’s a competitive sport. This desire to have their children attend the best schools defines the lives of the main characters.

Despite providing a supportive environment, the mothers are praised if a child makes the grade and blamed if they do not. It’s frustrating when your worth depends on the accomplishments of another human being, but it’s not a game any of the drama's mothers can stop playing, even if it leads to violence.

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Aside from casting a spotlight on the topic of education, it also makes an attempt to remind parents about the importance of loving a child for who they are, and not their accomplishments. Their goal is to emphasize the role that parents play in their children’s lives as pillars of support, rather than objects of anxiety amidst the high-pressured scholastic environment – and SKY Castle has achieved that.

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By diving deep into a family drama, this drama takes viewers through the dark sides of Korea’s controversial education system, also including suicides. Things may get pretty dramatic, but the drama offers an important and difficult look into topics many viewers can empathize with. Though the drama cleverly softens some tension with comic relief, it doesn’t let us forget the ridiculous demands these families have on themselves and each other and the nasty results of their quest for perfection.

Leading the huge cast of characters as the mothers, Yum Jung Ah, Lee Tae Ran, Yoon Se Ah, and Oh Na Ra are the first four are the heads of their ultra-wealthy families, which make up the top 0.1 percent in South Korea. They would do anything to ensure the success of their husbands and children. They fire up their husbands as breadwinners of the family and dote on their children as princes and princesses (as long as they bring home stellar report cards).

These mothers are well-versed as they need to outwit and outmaneuver any other mother that gets in their way. They throw extraordinary parties to celebrate whenever their child reaches a massive achievement just to throw it in each other’s faces. And if there’s a method to getting results, whether it’s a special diet or a special tutor, you better believe they’re going to do all of it.

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All of them have their own way of keeping their family ahead whether it’s Yum Jun-Ah who uses twisted manipulation to keep her kids as the top choice for the most famous universities, or No Seung-Hye who plays the role of a housewife to throw others off her scent.

On the other hand, the fathers of the drama are big shots. Three out of four of them work in the medical field. They’re sometimes aggressive but their bark is usually worse than their bite. Cha Min Hyuk is the loudest of them and always telling his two sons that they have to aim for the top. We must admit that the men’s blustering can lead to many funny scenes, especially when all of the families are all in a room yelling at each other indiscriminately.

The drama very quickly became a hit in Korea, mainly because of the nation’s strong emphasis on the value of education. South Korea has been called the most educated country in the world and it’s not unusual for Korean students to spend 16 hours or more a day at school and in after-class prep schools. Korea’s parents spend more on private tutoring. They hire private tutors from as early as preschool to give themselves the best opportunity of getting into decent primary and secondary schools and later universities.

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There’s more to life outside the school grades. What the big world needs is not good grades but a good heart
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The parents in the drama firmly believe that all conflicts in the family, like their children’s depression and worries about the future, will be resolved once they enter university. Even though the parents feel obliged to “prepare a quality future” for their children, ethical education inside the family is neglected, and the children doubt that their parents love them.

Sky Castle also shows the way these wealthy and ambitious families start grooming their child right from the early years. It's basically displacement that you make sure your child achieves what you desire! The show’s popularity has even spurred South Korea’s Education Ministry to convene meetings with related government bodies to plan investigations aimed at rooting out illegal private tutoring and consulting businesses, like those depicted in ‘SKY Castle’.

Does always financially supporting your child make you a parent? We should stop demoralizing kids by calling them a failure. Children are not tools that can fix a parent's inferiority complex. The competition to get into the best college ends up killing so many kids every year. But still, our society is not changing at all.

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Students can’t compete in good faith if they consider their friends as enemies and school as a battlefield. Parents also should not be so obsessive and force their kids to become top students. Grades and acknowledgment are not everything. While not a lot of parents may agree to this, it’s also important to consider the children’s opinions and not to impose their dreams on their kids. There’s more to life outside the school grades. What the big world needs is not good grades but a good heart.

This is a must watch drama for every parent and teens to learn values of life or lack of them! “SKY Castle” is now available in Netflix and websites like Viki and Dramacool.

Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 9th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka.